Mayor tries to block report that references colonisation, capitalism

11:15 am on 16 May 2019

Hamilton mayor Andrew King is defending his attempt to veto a report about the environment because it takes a swipe at capitalism and colonisation.

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Hamilton mayor Andrew King Photo: RNZ / Andrew McRae

Waikato environment trust Go Eco presented a report on the state of the environment to the Hamilton City Council's community, services and environment committee on Tuesday.

Part of the report noted that it was a challenge to engage diverse communities in sustainability and environmental causes, and raised the issue of consumerism and capitalism.

"Conservation and restoration work appears to depend on retired pākehā who have the time and privilege," the report states.

"Colonisation and systems of oppression continue to force people to a daily struggle of survival. Yet it is the more wealthy who, through their consumption, travel and investments, continue to have the most detrimental impact on the environment."

It said that the market-based capitalist system continued to fail the majority.

Mayor Andrew King said the comments were out of place and offensive.

"This report has political and derogatory overtones," he said.

"I can not receive this report. It undermines the whole basis that democracy is based on."

He called for councillors to reject the report until the parts about colonisation and capitalism were removed.

Most councillors said they also took offence to that part of the report, but in the end only Ryan Hamilton voted in favour of the motion. He said those paragraphs tainted the report.

"It was not a balance context. It was one or two sentences on capitalism chucked in there following some colonisation - it was very slanted," he said.

The outrage and objections played out in front of Go Eco community coordinator Anna Casey-Cox and her colleagues, who had just presented their work.

"It surprises us that any of this would make people feel uncomfortable at this point," she said.

"We would have thought that, in the positions they hold, that there would be a deeper understanding of what we might be meaning when we talk about these issues in relation to the environment."

Ms Casey-Cox said they could not write a report that talks about land in the Waikato without acknowledging colonisation, given a large proportion of Waikato lands were confiscated from Māori by the Crown.

And she said there is plenty of international evidence about how growth and consumerism is detrimental to the environment.

"To have a report that is about the environment that does not draw attention to those issues that are so vital to life today in the Waikato just does not seem sensible or perhaps just."

Councillor Angela O'Leary said she could see the links the report was making, and said it's a bad look for the council when it tries to censor anyone.

"There was absolutely nothing in there that a rational person would take offence to," she said.

"People should not be afraid to express their views to their elected members and it seems to be a growing trend in the Hamilton City Council, and it has to stop."

But the mayor is standing by his stance, and said the report should not have taken a swipe at capitalism.

"I am very comfortable with speaking out. It is out of scope to have minority political view woven through a report on the environment."

The council resolved to receive the report and accept that they do not have to agree with everything in it.